A traditional marriage is when two people, often in love, get together and officially get married. With white dresses and a sharp tuxedo for the groom, promising vows read aloud, a unanimous ‘i do’, a marriage is surely a celebration with loved ones.
However, for some people marriages may get complicated, which is why they choose to live as a couple without getting married. In many states of the country, common law marriage is a norm, but it isn’t legal everywhere. In such states, for you to be married, you want a proper ‘i do’ ceremony.
What is Common Law Marriage?
A common law marriage is without the white dresses and tuxedos, without the ‘i dos’ and certainly without a marriage license. This is like an unofficial marriage, where if two people are living together for years, they start to mention themselves as spouses for the world, without actually getting married.
This is a common practice in many states, but without a marriage certificate the relationship isn’t legal. And no, for a couple who lives together for a while doesn’t automatically get married- that scenario is not common law marriage. Let’s get into more details about what it is.
Common Law Marriage Requirements
For your relationship to be considered as common law marriage, there are certain requirements:
- You must live together (amount of time varies by state).
- You both must have the legal right or “capacity to marry”.
- Both must be 18 years old (varies by State).
- Both must be mentally stable.
- Both must not be married to someone else.
- You both must intend to be married.
- You both must hold yourself out to friends and family as being a married couple.
- Taking the same last name.
- Referring to each other in public as “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.”
- Holding joint bank accounts/credit cards.
If all of these requirements are a must to be considered a common law marriage.
Where is Common Law Marriage Legal?
Here is a list of states where common law marriage is considered legal:
- Colorado: Common law marriage contracted on or after Sept. 1, 2006, is valid if, at the time the marriage was entered into, both parties are 18 years or older, and the marriage is not prohibited by other law.
- Iowa: Common law marriage for purposes of the Support of Dependents Chapter (Iowa Code §252A.3) Otherwise it is not explicitly prohibited (Iowa Code §595.1A)
- Kansas: Common law marriage will be recognized if the parties are 18 or older and for purposes of the Divorce and Maintenance Article, proof of common law marriage is allowed as evidence of marriage of the parties (Kan. Stat. §23-2502; Kan. Stat. §23-2714)
- Montana: Not strictly prohibited, they are not invalidated by the Marriage Chapter (Mont. Stat. §40-1-403)
- New Hampshire: Common Law Marriage: “persons cohabiting and acknowledging each other as husband and wife, and generally reputed to be such, for the period of 3 years, and until the decease of one of them, shall thereafter be deemed to have been legally married.” (N.H. Stat. §457:39)
- South Carolina: allows for marriages without a valid license (S.C. Stat. §20-1-360)
- Texas: Common Law Marriage in specific circumstances (Tex. Family Law §1.101; Tex. Family Law §2.401-2.402)
- Utah: Utah State. §30-1-4.5
States that did allow, and will still recognize as valid, common law marriages entered into prior to the date it was abolished.
- Pennsylvania: No common law contracted after Jan. 1, 2005 (Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. tit. 23, § 1103)
- Ohio: No common law if entered into on or after Oct. 10, 1991 (Ohio State § 3105.12)
- Indiana: No common law if entered into after Jan. 1, 1958 (Ind. Code §31-11-8-5)
- Georgia: No common law after Jan. 1, 1997, however, common law marriages entered into prior to that date will be recognized by the state. (Ga. Stat. § 19-3-1.1)
- Florida: No common law entered into after Jan. 1, 1968 (Fla. Stat. § 741.211)
- Alabama: No common law after Jan. 1, 2017, however, common law marriages entered into prior to that date will be recognized by the state. (Ala. Code § 30-1-20)
How to Prove Common Law Marriage?
Since a common law marriage does not have a marriage certificate or a license, there is nothing substantial to prove whether there is a marriage or not.
However, there are still some documents that can be used to prove that the common law marriage is intact, such as:
- Shared ownership of residential property
- Joint leases or rental agreements
- Bills for shared utility accounts, such as:
- joint utility accounts
- Important documents for both of you showing the same address, such as:
- driver’s licenses
- insurance policies
- Identification documents
Of course, states where these aren’t legal will not recognize these documents and still may not deem you as a married couple. You could take your chances!
Common Law Marriage Divorce
There is no such thing as a common law divorce, whether you are married in the conventional style or common law, the divorce process is going to be the same. You will have to prove that there was a common law marriage in the first place and then file for divorce.
This means hiring a divorce attorney, sorting out custody and child support, alimony and other various aspects. The process will be the same and you will go through the same legal obligations.
Common law marriages are common, but may not be legal in your state. Make sure you know what everything is and you have all the information you need to take forward your relationship.